Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Plan
To Partition

Israel's new Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, apparently, has a plan to partition the Holy City:

JERUSALEM -- Israel's new government has outlined the clearest picture yet of how it plans to divide the holy city of Jerusalem and abandon much of the West Bank in its move to separate from the Palestinians.

Otniel Schneller _ an architect of the plan _ said in interviews this week with The Associated Press that his blueprint would give most of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians while keeping the predominantly Jewish areas for Israel.

"Those same neighborhoods will, in my assessment, be central to the makeup of the Palestinian capital ... al-Quds," Schneller said, calling Jerusalem by its Arabic name. "We will not divide Jerusalem, we will share it."

But Israel would keep Jerusalem's Old City with its shrines sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike _ an unacceptable plan to Palestinians, particularly if carried out unilaterally.

Still, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert determined to draw Israel's final borders by 2010, likely without waiting for Palestinian agreement, a division of Jerusalem looks realistic for the first time.

The plan to divide Jerusalem reflects a sea change in the thinking of most Israelis, who once considered sacrilegious even the idea of abandoning part of the holy city.

Since Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War, Israelis had been in broad agreement that the city could never again be divided. But after five years of intefadeh bloodshed, Israeli voters swept Olmert's Kadima Party into office in March 28 elections on a platform to separate from the Palestinians for the good of the Jewish state.

A plan to divide Jerusalem was first brought up in 2000 peace talks but failed to materialize. Schneller _ a Kadima lawmaker _ is reviving that plan with his blueprint. But he cautioned that the ideas are still in the planning stages, require international backing and that there's no clear timetable for carrying them out.

Under the plan, which would be executed unilaterally if efforts to resume peace talks fail, Jerusalem's Old City, its holy shrines and the adjacent neighborhoods, would become a "special region with special understandings," but remain under Israeli sovereignty, said Schneller.

The Old City and the adjacent "holy basin," which includes the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheik Jarrah, would fall on the Israeli side of the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank, another Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because plans have not been finalized.

The plan also calls for moving the barrier westward. That means much of East Jerusalem would no longer be cut off from the West Bank and most Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem could become part of a future Palestinian state on the eastern side of the barrier, the official said.
The United States has long held the position that "borders and Jerusalem and all final status issues ... ultimately have to be decided in negotiations between the parties," U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said.

But Washington is not likely to oppose unilateral Israeli pullouts from the West Bank.

Olmert's plan involves dismantling dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank with tens of thousands of people and moving them to larger settlement blocs in the territory that Israel hopes to hold onto under a final peace deal.

Israel has said it will give the new Hamas-led Palestinian government time to agree to international demands to recognize Israel, accept past peace deals and renounce violence. More than a month into its reign, Hamas has rejected the demands, Israel has cut off all ties with what it has labeled an enemy entity and it appears increasingly likely the Jewish state will draw its borders on its own.

That's a position hotly rejected by the Palestinians, who say the result will be a truncated territory on which it will be impossible to build a viable state.

"President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to accept any unilateral steps and rejects any provisional solutions," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior spokesman for the moderate Abbas, who still wields considerable power as president even though Hamas took over the parliament and Cabinet.